A pay-what-you-can restaurant is coming to south Minneapolis

Everyone's asking Anna Wienke what they can do to get involved in her new project.

Everyone's asking Anna Wienke what they can do to get involved in her new project. Getty Images/iStockphoto

In her 15-plus years in food service, Anna Wienke has played a number of parts.

She's been a server at Morton's Steakhouse; she's volunteered at St. Stephen's homeless shelter.

The roles couldn't be more different—one meant serving sirloins to the wealthy, the other, dishing out food from tin foil trays. But her big a-ha moment came when she decided to combine the two.

"I had waited on millionaires, and the thought occurred to me of, like, why don't I wait on these guys like I used to wait on millionaires?" Wienke says.

So, she did.

"The whole atmosphere of the room changed," she recalls. "It was a beautiful thing. I had no idea that's what was going to happen."

Heads lifted; smiles appeared. She started applying her fine-dining training at every service, and wondered if other changes might make a difference, too. What if they moved the tables together so everyone sat as a group? What if food wasn't served out of bulk platters, but was delivered to the table? 

It could have ended there, but Wienke had more questions. Questions like: What if this wasn't a shelter? What if it was a restaurant?

Soon, those questions will be answered by the entirely pay-what-you-can Provision Community Restaurant, which Wienke plans to open in Greater Powderhorn or Nokomis as soon as November or December. She's assembled a star-studded board of directors that includes Brent Frederick of Jester Concepts (Parlour, Borough, Monello) and Jared Brewington of the recently opened Funky Grits, along with nearly a dozen others.

"There's so many stories of people who have just shown up, who have heard somebody else talking about it, who are like, 'What are you talking about, and how do I get involved?'" Wienke says. "People have volunteered their time ... It's kind of restored my faith in humanity."

The idea behind Provision goes beyond feeding those in need. It's about eliminating waste by working with farms and restaurants to collect excess food that would otherwise end up in the trash. And there's a community component, too: eliminating social isolation by making the restaurant open not only to those experiencing homelessness, but to everyone.

The particulars are in the works, but the plan is to have prepackaged foods (sandwiches, salads) donated by partners like the MIA available at the Provisions food shelf on Mondays and Tuesdays. The full-service dining side will open through the rest of the week. Different restaurant "sponsors" will join with Provision each month—Rustica Bakery is already on board—and will provide food in addition to hosting educational "sustainability dinners." In Rustica's case, specifically, that will take the form of a seminar on how to best stretch a loaf of bread.

Provision is accepting donations through September 30 as they await approval on their 501(c)(3) status. And Wienke has no doubt that as time passes, other local restaurants will be on board.

"I can't believe this is something that doesn't already exist in Minneapolis, anyway—we're so about it. Aren't we at the top for per capita giving and volunteering?" Wienke asks. (We have been, traditionally, and over in Seward, Cafe Racer Kitchen already serves free lunch once a month.) "It kind of seems like a no-brainer."